By Kadafi El-Kardah,
Pennsylvania Environmental Council

Life under quarantine has Philadelphians looking for ways to beat the boredom and itching for a change of scenery. For many dog owners, that means taking more than the usual number of walks – and dealing with more than the usual amount of dog waste. But a stroll around the neighborhood with your four-legged friend can be more than just a stress-reliever. It’s also a chance to practice some of the small actions we can all take to improve our surroundings and enjoy our city.

Everyone knows that uncollected dog droppings are a nuisance, an eyesore and a smelly menace to clean shoes everywhere. But they’re also an environmental hazard, disrupting ecosystems and affecting plants, animals and even human beings in ways that might surprise you. When left on the ground, dog waste breaks down and washes into the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, polluting the water with bacteria, parasites and other pathogens. It also releases nutrients that cause excessive algae growth and deplete the dissolved oxygen levels in the water, harming aquatic life and often making creeks and rivers appear murky. In large enough quantities, this pollution can make the water unusable for boating, fishing, and other recreational activities. It’s no wonder the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers dog poop one of the major sources of water pollution in any urban area.

In light of these impacts, it’s disturbing that a substantial number of American dog owners – as many as 40 percent, according to some studies – don’t bother to pick up after their pets. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s human population keeps growing. More people means more dogs, and more dogs means more poop. If we want to protect our water, it’s time for dog owners to take responsibility.

Here’s what you can do:

Clean it up. Take a bag with you on walks. You don’t need a special pet waste bag; a plastic grocery bag works just fine. Turn the bag inside out over your hand and use it as a glove to pick up the waste, then invert again and tie it off until you get back home.

Dispose of it properly. Dog waste is best processed the same way as human waste: at a sewage treatment plant. Simply dump the feces from the bag into the toilet and flush. Never drop your dog’s droppings in an open storm drain. Storm drains lead directly to our local waterways, and improper disposal can create clogs and degrade water quality. Sometimes flushing down the toilet is not an option; if that’s the case, toss the bagged waste into a trash can (not a recycling bin – it will only contaminate the contents). Though many gardeners use animal manure as a fertilizer, dog waste is not suitable for composting, so keep it away from your plants. Littering is never an option, so please don’t throw your bags into the woods or into the bushes.

Even in normal times, cleaning up after your pet is essential to the health of people and all living things in the city. But now, with more Philadelphians relying on public spaces for safe, socially-distanced exercise and recreation, it’s more important than ever to keep our streets, sidewalks, and trails free of animal waste. During this challenging time, let’s come together and do our part as citizens to keep our communities and watersheds clean and beautiful.  

Kadafi El-Kardah is the Community Engagement Specialist at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC). PEC protects and restores the natural and built environments through innovation, collaboration, education, and advocacy. Through a partnership with the Philadelphia Water Department, PEC is raising awareness of the effects of water pollution via stormwater runoff. For more information, visit their stormwater page at https://pecpa.org/program/stormwater-education .

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